Page images

Endymion Porter, Mr. Hales of Eton', and Ben Jonson; Sir John Suckling, who was a professed admirer of Shakspeare, had undertaken his de fence against Ben Jonson with some warmth; Mr. Hales, who had sat still for some time, told them, That if Mr. Shakspeare had not read the ancients, he had likewise not stolen any thing from them; and that if he would produce any one topick finely treated by any one of them, he would undertak eto shew something upon the same subject at least as well written by Shakspeare. The latter part of his life was spent, men of good sense will wish theirs may be, in retirement, and the conversation of his friends. He had the good fortune to gather an estate equal to his occasion, and, in that, to his wish; and is said to have spent some years before his death at his native Stratford. His pleasurable wit and good-nature engaged him in the acquain tance, and entitled him to the friendship of the gentlemen of the neighbourhood. Amongst them,


as all

it is a story almost still remembered in that coun try, that he had a particular intimacy with Mr. Conbe, an old gentleman noted thereabouts for his wealth and usury: it happened,

that in

a pleasant conversation amongst their common friends, Mr. Combe told Shakspeare in a laughing manner, that he fancied he intended to write his Epitaph, if he happened to out-live him; and since he could not know what might be said of him when he was dead, he desired it might be done immediately; upon which Shakspeare gave him these four verses:

Ten in the hundred lies here ingrav'd,

'Tis a hundred to ten his soul is not sav'd:

If any man ask, Who lyes in this tomb?
Oh! ho! quoth the devil, 'tis my John-a-Combe.

But the sharpness of the sàtire is said to have stung the man so severely, that he never forgave it. He died in the 53d year of his age, and was buried on the north side of the chancel, in the great church at Stratford, where a monument is placed in the wall. On his grave stone underneath is,

Good friend, for Jesus' sake forbear

To dig the dust inclosed here.

Blest be the man that spares these stones,
And curst be he that moves my bones.

He had three daughters, of which two lived to
be married; Judith, the elder, to one Mr. Tho
mas Quiney, by whom she had three sons, who
all died without children; and Susanna who
was his favourite, to Dr. John Hall, a physician
of good reputation in that country.
She left one
child only, a daughter, who was married first
to Thomas Nashe, Esq. and afterwards to Sir
John Barnard of Abington, but died likewise
without issue.

This is what I could learn of any note, either relating to himself or family: the character of the man is best seen in his writings. But since Ben Jonson has made a sort of an essay towards it in his Discoveries, I will give it in his words.

„I remember the players have often mentioned ,,it as an honour to Shakspeare, that in wri,, ting (whatsoever he penned) he never blotted ,, out a line. My answer hath been. Would he ,,had blotted a thousand! which they thought ,, a malevolent speech. I had not told posterity

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]


,, this, but for their ignorance, who chose that circumstance to commend their friend by, whe rein he most faulted: and to justify mine own candor, for I loved the man, and do honour his memory, on this side idolatry, as much as, He was, indeed, honest, and of an open ,, and free nature, had an excellent fancy, brave notions, and gentle expressions; wherein he flowed with that facility, that sometimes it was ,, necessary he should be stopped: Sufflaminan

,, any.


[ocr errors]

dus erat, as Augustus said of Haterius. His ,, wit was in his own power, would the rule of ,, it had been so too. Many times he fell into ,, those things which could not escape laughter; ,, as when he said in the person of Caesar, one ,, speaking to him."

"Caesar thou dost me wrong.

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]

,, and such like, which were ridiculous. ,,redeemed his vices with his virtues: more in him to be praised than

,, ever ,, pardoned. «

But he there was to be

As for the passage which he mentions out of Shakspeare, there is somewhat like it in Julius Caesar, but without the absurdity; nor did I ever meet with it in any edition that I have seen, as quoted by Mr. Jonson. Besides his plays in this edition, there are two or three ascribed to him by Mr. Langbaine, which I have never seen, and know nothing of. He writ likewise Venus and Adonis, and Tarquin and Lucrece, in stanza's, which have been printed in a late collection of poems. As to the character given of him by Ben Jonson, there is a good deal true in it:

but I believe it may be as well expressed by what Horace says of the first Romans, who wrote tragedy upon the Greek models, (or indeed trauslated them) in his epistle to Augustus.

[ocr errors]

- natura sublimis et acer:

Nam spirat tragicum satis et feliciter audei, Sed turpem putat in chartis metuitque lituram.

As I have not proposed to myself to enter into a large and complete criticism upon Shakspeare's works, so I will only take the liberty, with all due submission to the judgment of others, to observe some of those things I have been pleased with in looking him over.

His plays are properly to be distinguished only, into comedies and tragedies. Those which are called histories, and even some of his comedies, are really tragedies, with a run or mixture of comedies amongst them. That way of tragi comedy was the common mistake of that, age, and is indeed become so agreeable to the English taste, that though the severer critics among us cannot bear it, yet the generality of our audien ces seem to be better picased with it than with an exact tragedy. The Merry Wives of Windsor, The Comedy of Errors, and The Taming of a Shrew, are all pure comedy: the rest, however they are called, have something of both kinds. It is not very easy to determine which way of writing he was most excellent in. There is certainly a great deal of entertainment in his comical humours; and though they did not then strike at all ranks of people, as the satire of the present age has taken the liberty to do, yet there is a pleasing and a well-distinguished variety in those characters which he thought fit to meddle with.

[ocr errors]

Falstaff is allowed by every body to be a master. piece; the character is always well sustained, though drawn out into the length of three plays; and even the account of his death, given by his old landlady Mrs. Quickly, in the first act of Henry V. though it be extremely natural, is yet as diverting as any part of his life. If there be any fault in the draught he has made of this lewd old fellow, it is, that though he has made him a thief, lying, cowardly, vain - glorious, and in short every way vicious, yet he has given him so much wit as to make him almost too agreeable; and I do not know whether some people have not, in remembrance of the diversion he had formerly afforded them, been sorry to see his friend Hal use him so scurvily, when he comes to the crown in the end of the second part of Henry the Fourth. Amongst other extravagancies, in The Merry Wives of Windsor, he has made him a deer - stealer, that he might at the same time remember his Warwickshire prosecutor, under the name of Justice Shallow; he has given him very near the same coat of arms which Dugdale, in his Antiquities of that county, describes for a family there, and makes the Welch person descant very pleasantly upon them. That whole play is admirable; the humours are various and well opposed; the main design, which is to cure Ford of his unreasonable jealousy, is extremely well conducted. In Twelfth Night there is something singularly ridiculous and pleasant in the fantastical steward Malvolio. The parasite and the vain-glorious in Parolles, in All's Well that Ends Well, is as good as any thing of that kind in Plautus or Terence. Petruchio, in The Taming of the Shrew, is an uncommon piece of humour. The conversation of Benedick

« PreviousContinue »